EDITORIAL: Stay on high alert

Unless strong measures are taken to curb the mutant virus, the possibility of another lockdown cannot be ruled out

Three Nepalis, who recently returned home from the United Kingdom, tested positive for the new variant of the coronavirus upon their arrival here.

The new variant of the virus, known as B117, is said to be more contagious than COVID-19. Scientists working in virology have yet to determine whether the infection from the new variant causes more severe disease or if the COVID-19 vaccines already developed by various countries and laboratories are effective for the mutant virus as well. The Ministry of Health and Population has confirmed that a 28-year-old woman and two men, aged 32 and 67, were diagnosed with the new variant. The nasal and throat swabs of six persons returning from the UK were sent to a Hong Kong laboratory for the test on January 11 with the assistance of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

One woman and one man have tested negative while the 67-year-old man is asymptomatic although he is still infected. The new variant of the virus was first detected in the UK, and similar cases were also confirmed in South Africa. The new variant has so far spread in 35 countries. With the surge in the new variant, almost all the countries, including the EU, have suspended flights to and from the UK.

After detecting the new variant, the health ministry has alerted the people to adopt safety measures until vaccines are available in the country. The government is trying to purchase the vaccines from India and other countries. But it is not sure when and in what quantity the government will bring them to vaccinate the needy people. Health experts have advised the government to strengthen surveillance and contact tracing for the detection of the new variant of the virus to prevent it from spreading in the communities.

Chances of the mutant virus spreading in the communities cannot be ruled out as the local levels have already decided to reopen schools from Grades 8 to 10, keeping in mind the upcoming Secondary Education Examination (SEE) after a hiatus of ten months.

Considering the high risk of the mutant virus, the government has made it mandatory for those who return home from the UK to stay in quarantine. Not only from the UK, people from other countries should also stay in quarantine or in isolation as this mutant virus has also been detected in other countries as well.

The government also needs to keep vigil along the open border between Nepal and India, from where a large number of people cross the border without having their health checked up. Unless strong measures are taken to control the new variant of the virus, there is a high possibility of going back to the lockdown period. We also need to keep our quarantine and isolation centres, especially in the Tarai and the Kathmandu Valley, intact to deal with any eventuality caused by the mutant virus.

Besides putting our society on high alert, the best option to bring the virus — COVID-19 or new variant — under control is to roll out the anti-virus vaccines to the urgently needed population. Once the communities are vaccinated, the chances of its spread to a larger section of the population can be greatly minimised, giving the much needed relief to the national economy that has been crushed by the pandemic.

Fire and rescue

A fire that broke out at the Soaltee City Apartments at Rabi Bhawan, Kathmandu on Monday was doused in time before it could do much damage to life and property, but it has raised several questions about safety. The fire caused by a short circuit had spread to all the 14 floors in no time, causing panic among the residents. But the firefighters who had arrived within minutes of receiving information helped rescue a dozen people, including elderly people.

As chic multi-storeyed apartments catch the fancy of the people, it is important to see that the builders are not cutting corners when it comes to providing safety measures. In the above case, none of the anti-fire equipment, such as fire extinguishers and delivery hose that should contain pressurised water, seemed to work. Thus the builders must be brought to book and questioned why this has happened. The shoddy construction work coupled with the laxity seen in certifying a high-rise building makes highrise apartments vulnerable to fires and other hazards.

And the narrow urban roads only add to the challenges of the fire fighters. Thus as the urban sprawl continues, a new building code might be necessary to enhance the safety of the residents.